Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, July 22, 2011 10:59 pm


Filed under: Geek-related issues — Lex @ 10:59 pm
Tags: , ,

Apparently Verizon is celebrating expanding 4G service into the Triad by breaking the Internet. Can’t get into Twitter or Facebook suddenly.

The better off you are, the more ignorant you get …

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:47 pm

… when the issue is government assistance:

Turns out that whether or not you identify as someone who has used a government social program doesn’t really depend on things like having used a government social program.

I realize that there are many, many Americans who don’t want to think they’re in the same boat as many, many other Americans on whom they look down. But we really are all in this together, which is one of the long-running themes of Athenae’s frequent rants, such as this one:

Tommy T posted that graphic up on Facebook this morning and honestly, it just reminds me of conversations with acquaintances around the holidays, when they talk about how their grandparents might have been on public assistance during the Depression, but they were ASHAMED of it. Not like those people are now, with their low-hanging jeans and cell phones, parading around in their cars with the shiny spinners.

They don’t actually know or understand who is using various kinds of government assistance, or for what. They just hear the cocktail party jokes and the late-night comic stereotypes, and they couldn’t be that, after all.

And it just makes me sad, because when we make this all about shame, about wishing for the ability to judge others as worthy and unworthy, we just expose as a society how scared we all are of being found wanting. How scared we are of falling so low that our own neighbors, our own friends might judge us the same way. If we don’t stigmatize this, if we don’t make it the most shameful thing that can happen to you, then we can’t keep it far enough away from our own doorsteps not to be scared out of our minds all the time.

There’s another choice, you know: constructing the kind of society where you don’t have to be scared out of your mind all the time. Unfortunately, some of this country’s wealthiest and most powerful interests want you to be scared. Perhaps you should ponder the question of why that might be.

Parallel universe

Gin and Tacos:

(Let’s) indulge in a fun hypothetical.

Let’s say that through a combination of fund-raising prowess, ideological militancy, and personal charisma, Jesse Jackson Sr. is able to assume a position of considerable behind-the-scenes power in the Democratic Party. His sway over elected Democrats is such that he manages to get 95% of the Democratic Congressional delegation, House and Senate, to sign an oath of personal loyalty to his policy goals. Specifically, they pledge that under no circumstances will they ever support cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other social welfare programs. Jackson believes that any such cuts will affect the poor and people of color disproportionately. Throughout the debate over the budget and debt ceiling, House and Senate Democrats refuse to even consider any proposal that touches any of those programs. It is a non-starter. Full stop. Because they swore an oath to Jesse Jackson that they wouldn’t.

I’m sure you can see through this thin shoe-on-the-other-partisan-foot analogy to Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” that currently holds sway over the GOP. I do think it’s interesting to draw out the hypothetical scenario, though, to underscore a point: Can you even imagine the sheer violence of the [drawers-soiling] that the GOP, Teatards, and Beltway media would be engaged in if the shoe really was on the other foot? If every Democrat had signed a personal oath to an interest group and private citizen that took precedence over their oath to the American people and Constitution?

I’m quite sure someone would have taken a shot — literally — at Jackson by now. But we know, and are more willing by the day to acknowledge publicly, that the congressional GOP and the party base are insane. The more interesting part of this thought experiment to me is what the exercise tells us about the U.S. news media: its political leanings, its philosophical allegiances and its sickening double standards.

Treading dangerous ground

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:21 pm
Tags: , ,

If you live in the South, you’re of a certain age and you have any money at all, you have spent your life driving pretty much everywhere. There’s not a ton of mass transit, stuff tends to be spread out because land historically has been cheap, sidewalks are hit-and-miss because they cost money, and bike paths are a relatively recent development.

I walked to school in grades K-2, but I rode the bus thereafter (until I turned 16 and could drive, hell, yes). And in all that time and for years afterward, I never really thought much about how people got around when they couldn’t afford a car and the risks that such people ran when, inevitably, they came in close proximity to moving cars.

Until I became a police reporter. And had to go cover wrecks, including but not limited to pedestrians being struck.

The first thing that hit me, metaphorically speaking, was the incredible damage even a relatively slow-moving vehicle can do to the human body. The majority of your body is water, and the hydrostatic shock wave traveling through that water as the result of blunt-force impact can blow your boots off your feet and your feet off your legs even before your body ever hits the ground.

The second thing was how very much emergency workers and even tow-truck drivers were taking their lives into their hands when responding to wrecks on superhighways, even in broad daylight and good weather.

The third thing, reinforced by the fact that I frequently had to park some distance from a wreck scene so as not to interfere with the access of emergency vehicles, is how hostile the roadway environment in general can be to pedestrians unless pedestrian safety is a design consideration.

So I’m not at all surprised to learn that an Atlanta mother lost a 4-year-old child to a hit-and-run driver while trying to cross a busy roadway with arms full of groceries and three young kids in tow. But I am quite surprised — and more than a little outraged — to learn that she was charged with and convicted of vehicular manslaughter and could serve 36 months in prison.

Yeah. She was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and could get three years. And she wasn’t driving anything.

Jerry L. Guy, who was actually driving? Who actually hit the child? And who then sped away? He did six months. He’s out already.

But wait! There’s more!

Guy confessed to having consumed “a little” alcohol earlier in the day, being prescribed pain medication and being partially blind in his left eye, said David Simpson, his attorney. …

Court records show that Guy was previously convicted of two-hit-and-runs on the same day, Feb. 17, 1997.

The first hit-and-run also happened on Austell Road, but when Guy fled from that scene he hit another car, seriously injuring that driver and passenger, records show.

Guy pleaded guilty and received a two-year prison sentence, but was out in less than a year, according to the Department of Corrections website.

So this individual has committed not one, not two, but three hit-and-runs in the past 15 years. And he has served a total of what appears to be 18 months.

Meanwhile, the mom, Raquel Nelson, who was technically guilty of trying to cross the street to get home, could be looking at three years in prison. Now why might that be? David Goldberg has a hypothesis I find depressingly plausible (all emphases in the original):

Nelson, 30 and African-American, was convicted on the charge this week by six jurors who were not her peers: All were middle-class whites, and none had ever taken a bus in metro Atlanta. In other words, none had ever been in Nelson’s shoes:

They had never taken two buses to go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart with three kids in tow. They had never missed a transfer on the way home that caused them to wait a full hour-and-a-half with tired and hungry kids for the next bus. They had never been let off at a bus stop on a five-lane speedway, with their apartment in sight across the road, and been asked to drag those three little ones an additional half-mile-plus down the road to the nearest traffic signal and back in order to get home at last.

And they had never lost control of an over-eager four-year-old as they waited on a three-foot median for a car to pass. Nor had they watched helplessly as a driver who had had “three or four” beers and two painkillers barreled toward their child.

That’s right: Because Nelson did not lug her exhausted little ones three-tenths of a mile from the bus stop to a traffic signal in order to cross five lanes of traffic, she is guilty of vehicular homicide. Because she did as her fellow bus riders, who crossed at the same time and place, and because she did what pedestrians will do every time – take the shortest reasonable path – she is guilty of vehicular homicide.

What about the highway designers, traffic engineers, transit planners and land use regulators who allowed a bus stop to be placed so far from a signal and made no other provision for a safe crossing; who allowed – even encouraged, with wide, straight lanes – prevailing speeds of 50-plus on a road flanked by houses and apartments; who carved a fifth lane out of a wider median that could have provided more of a safe refuge for pedestrians; who designed the entire landscape to be hostile to people trying to get to work and groceries despite having no access to a car?

They are as innocent as the day is long, according to the solicitor general’s office.

I’m somewhat less likely than Goldberg to think race is a factor in this case. But class? Oh, hell, yes. And in the South, issues of race and class can be difficult to tease apart unless you’re doing TV ads for Jesse Helms, in which they are very easy to tease apart in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons.

Raquel Nelson did nothing but try to provide for her family. Jerry Guy should be doing 20 years. And the prosecutor who brought this case should be disbarred … and have his driver’s license taken away for life.

UPDATE: I have emailed the following to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal:

As a police reporter for years, I was nearly hit by vehicles many times while covering wrecks and incidents in which pedestrians were struck. I knew cops and tow-truck drivers who were injured — and THEY had flashing lights to alert other drivers to their presence. What possible chance does a pedestrian with three young children in tow have?

A statue of my great-grandfather, Hooper Alexander Sr., a former legislator and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, stands in front of the DeKalb County Courthouse. He would be appalled at this injustice. Overturn Raquel Nelson’s conviction.

Also, more background on pedestrian-safety and road-design issues in the original.

Thursday, July 21, 2011 8:53 pm

Football concussions: Is judgment day coming?

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 8:53 pm
Tags: , ,

Even as the NFL was preparing to celebrate an end to this year’s lockout, 75 former NFL players sued today, claiming that the league has pulled a Big Tobacco by concealing since the 1920s evidence that football-induced concussions caused brain injury. Helmet maker Riddell also is a defendant.

Irrespective of the merits of this particular suit (whose plaintiffs include Dolphins WR Mark Duper and Giants RBs Ottis Anderson and Rodney Hampton), as I’ve said before, a day of reckoning is coming for organized football. If this suit doesn’t bring it, something else will. Permanent brain damage — chronic traumatic encephalopathy — is a feature of football, not a bug. And there’s no technological fix.






How the Murdochs stole voicemail messages …

Filed under: Geek-related issues — Lex @ 8:33 pm
Tags: , ,

… and how it could happen to you.

My voicemail is not on any of the networks these reporters (the WNYC ones, not the Murdoch ones) were able to hack in their tests, and I always password-protect my stuff. But the technology and the sheer will to evil out there, along with the carelessness, or worse, so common among the corporations that keep our data, leave me more than a little uneasy.

Best Godwin violation ever

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:29 pm

Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice. It’s a bit lengthy, but nuance is like that. It’s worth your time.


News of the world

Looks as if James Murdoch may have committed perjury earlier this week:

Tom Crone and Colin Myler were well aware that the statement they were about to make could prove fatal to James Murdoch.

When the Guardian pointed out in the wake of his parliamentary testimony that Murdoch’s son had sought to blame them for concealment, one friend of the two men said: “To contradict James will be as good as coming out and calling him a liar.”

Myler and Crone, the News of the World‘s then editor and News International‘s top newspaper lawyer, both of whom have lost their jobs in the wake of the phone-hacking affair, subsequently spent the day debating what to do.

If their statement of Thursday night is correct, Rupert’s son will have proved to have misled parliament. He will also have destroyed the Murdoch family’s last line of defence against the scandal – that they knew nothing, and had been betrayed by those underlings they trusted.

Myler and Crone are, in effect, accusing James Murdoch of being part of the cover-up, one in which the company’s executives vainly twisted and turned to conceal the truth about phone hacking and blame it on a single “rogue reporter”.

James Murdoch’s crucial claim to the committee was that he had personally agreed to a massive payout, of £700,000 to hacking victim Gordon Taylor, in ignorance of the true facts. He said Crone and Myler had told him the payout was legally necessary.

The Labour MP Tom Watson, one of the affair’s most persistent investigators, extracted from Murdoch towards the end of the committee session what was to prove an explosive claim.

He claimed that Crone and Myler had concealed from him the crucial piece of evidence in the case – that an email had come to light with a voicemail hacking transcript, marked “for Neville”, ie Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World chief reporter.

The existence of this email, if made public, would explode the “rogue reporter” defence and begin to implicate the rest of the NoW newsroom. It was – and is – the smoking gun in the whole hacking case.

Rupert may yet skate, but his son and his “like-a-daughter,” Rebekah Brooks (already charged in the case), may not be free before he shuffles off his mortal coil slime.

UPDATE: Watson says he is referring James Murdoch’s testimony to the police for a criminal investigation.

(h/t: DougJ at Balloon Juice)

Keeping your head in the game

Filed under: Why, yes, I AM a bad parent. Why do you ask? — Lex @ 7:21 pm

During the drive to take Victoria to the doctor today, we covered the following topics in our conversation:

  • Tiger Woods and his caddy parting ways.
  • The importance of caddies to PGA Tour golfers.
  • The importance of golf to this region in particular and North Carolina in general.
  • The importance of Pinehurst No. 2 to golf.
  • The significance of Black Mountain’s golf course (at least at one time, the world’s only par-6 hole).
  • The fact that Black Mountain’s par-6 hole is a gimmick.
  • What a “gimmick” is.
  • Examples of other kinds of gimmicks.
  • The prevalence of gimmicks in politics and government.
  • The importance of mathematics in determining what is a gimmick and what is not.

And that was just the first half of the trip. Total trip distance: 4.7 miles.

Parenting. It’s a participatory sport.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 10:52 pm

They. Just. Freaking. Lie.

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 10:52 pm
Tags: ,

In this case, “they” is Focus on the Family. Also in this case, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., catches them at it:

I have no idea how good a congresscritter I’d make, and fortunately for you we’ll never find out. But if I ended up chairing a congressional committee, I would do one thing: I would put everybody who came before that committee, including the janitors, under oath. Lying to Congress is already a crime, but maybe the word “perjury” would get people’s attention.

Why my kids need to go the heck to sleep when I tell them to:

Because if they don’t go to sleep, then I can’t go to sleep. And if that happens, then according to science, I can’t be held responsible for what happens:

The next time your boss scolds you for low production and claims that as the reason for not giving you a well-deserved raise, she may not be unfair. She may be sleepy.

A new study shows that when people, in this case college students, are sleepy they are more likely to think about how events could have turned out differently and ponder how situations could have been better. Depending on the outcome, they may blame others and even seek revenge.

Oh, well, I probably already threw away my shot at Father of the Year anyway.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 8:40 pm

Granted, there’s a lot of hacking and debt-ceilinging going on …

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 8:40 pm

… but this, too, happened:

The nomination of the first openly gay man to serve on the federal bench would at one time have been a flashpoint in the culture wars. But Paul Oetken was confirmed without a word of objection on the Senate floor and with hardly a mention in the commentariat.

Even some of the chamber’s most ardent social conservatives – Tom Coburn, John Cornyn, Jeff Sessions, Jon Kyl – cast votes for Oetken. [So did N.C.’s Republican senator, Richard Burr. Our Democrat, Kay Hagan, for some reason did not vote. — Lex.] When the lopsided vote tally of 80-13 was read out, there was no cheer or reaction of any kind. Senators continued their conversations as if nothing unusual had happened.

A part of me is tempted to grump a bit about how it might have been nice to nominate someone other than one more corporate lawyer to the federal bench, but I am going to squelch that part and say instead, “You see, kids? It gets better.”

Thomas Friedman: Not nearly as smart as he thinks he is

Sir Charles at Cogitamus cuts Friedman a new orifice, pointing out not only that Friedman’s vision of our economic future is not only probably factually inaccurate, it also implies some very disturbing things to anyone at all concerned about security and basic human dignity:

This seems really obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said.  The vast majority of people in this country are not going to be working in Silicon Valley or like enterprises.  They are going to continue doing the jobs that have been staples of the economy for a long time — nurses, teachers, health care aids, building tradesman, truck drivers, firefighters, cops, sanitation workers, hair dressers, grocery store clerks, etc.  These people don’t need to differentiate themselves — they need to be paid a [expletive] living wage by a society that credits them with some human worth.  The notion that people want to — or will be able to — continuously reinvent themselves as workers is just nonsensical.  It devalues the concept of experience, it belittles the value of stability in people’s lives, and it is, ultimately, a way to glamorize what in fact is an ugly world view of perpetual worker vulnerability and lack of value in a world in which free floating capital continuously undermines any hope that the vast majority will experience anything like a decent and secure life.

This, inexorably, is where IGMFY leads. Huxley and Orwell had it right. Friedman has it wrong. His vision is 21st-century serfdom,  he’s too farking dumb to understand it, and far too many people who ought to know better think he actually knows what he is talking about.

Too big to govern? There’s an app for that.

Having a job and all, I did not watch Murdoch’s Parliament testimony today except briefly while my flat tire was being fixed (pictures, no sound), nor did I have time to read much about it. But I gather one of his defenses was that News Corp. is so big he couldn’t possibly be expected to know about a vast, wide-ranging illegal electronic surveillance program that victimized, at a minimum, upwards of 4,000 people, evidence of which Scotland Yard somehow managed to sit on for more than five years.

(This is, of course, the same defense offered by Alberto Gonzalez for allowing the United States Department of Justice to be converted into a wholly-owned subsidiary of Karl Rove to root out U.S. attorneys who refused to gin up fake, politically motivated criminal cases: The department employs more than 100,000 people, he couldn’t possibly be expected to know what they’re all up to, yadda yadda yadda.)

Let’s manually disarm our BS detectors for just a moment and do something utterly counterintuitive: Let’s take Rupert at his word.

What, then, are the implications?

Rupert Murdoch is 1) the world’s pre-eminent media baron and 2) utterly incapable of detecting, let alone preventing, a years-long, widespread, continuing criminal enterprise within the company he supposedly runs — because that company is too large. Accordingly, we must conclude that if he, with his vast skills and knowledge, can’t keep crimes like this from occurring in such a large enterprise, then no one can.

Therefore, no such large enterprises can be allowed to exist, and those that exist now must be broken up into much smaller, more governable entities, so that even the typical, not-especially-brilliant CEO can run one without running afoul of RICO. Heck, we’ve even had a mechanism on the books for a century that would go pretty far toward allowing us to do that.

So, OK, Rupert, you’re right. Lesson learned. Off you go.

(**turns BS detector back on**)

Another quote of the day

Filed under: Quote Of The Day — Lex @ 8:19 pm
Tags: ,

Commenter Gerald Fnord, at Edroso’s place:

The problem with a system that will let you buy anything is that everything will be for sale … at which point no right is inalienable.

Put another way, the market is not a solution for everything, and even libertarians — sane ones — grant that.

Quote of the day

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:18 pm
Tags: , , ,

Emptywheel, in her new digs, on the pending settlement of the NFL lockout:

This is all proof, I guess, that Eric Cantor is a bigger [expletive] than even Jerry Jones.

Which I would have said violated the principles of simple Newtonian physics, but there we are: Football! Which is, of course, far from the same thing as the Panthers’ having a decent season, but at least the No. 1 overall draft pick is likely to be under contract when camp opens.


“But … but … but … CLASS WARFARE!!!”

Filed under: Evil,I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:06 pm
Tags: , ,

Chris Bowers of the Great Orange Satan:

As you read this, rich and powerful people in Washington, DC are trying to determine not whether they should cut programs designed to help low and middle-income Americans, but by how much they should cut those programs. The rich and powerful people in DC are making these cuts in order to pay for tax breaks they recently gave to rich people and large corporations. Additionally, the cuts are being made at the behest of the lobby organizations and media operations owned by rich people and large corporations.

If that isn’t a class war, I don’t know what is.

If it quacks steals from the poor and middle class to give to the rich, it’s class warfare. And if it refuses to provide basic health care to poor people, guts workplace and environmental safety regulations, buys off government regulatory agencies and insulates itself from accountability under the guise of “tort reform,” all while enjoying the lowest tax burden in more than half a century and pretty much all of the income gains in the past 40 years, it might not be genocide, but it  certainly sees genocide as an aspirational peer.

Monday, July 18, 2011 11:03 pm

Did he fall or was he pushed?

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 11:03 pm
Tags: , , ,

The primary whistleblower in all the legal trouble in which Rupert Murdoch, his current and former minions and a couple of Britain’s former top cops now find themselves was found dead, or “found dead,” today:

If I had a fiver for every hack and distant acquaintance who has told me over the last year what a nice bloke Sean Hoare was, I’d be a wealthy man – even given the state our currency is in.

I never met him. He only came to my attention at all because of his confession to the New York Times about endemic phone-hacking within Newscorp in general, and under the stewardship of  Andy Coulson in particular. I remember very well that the venom with which Murdoch set a gaggle of legals on the NYT at the time made my nose for a scandal twitch. To be honest, I rather suspect that without Sean Hoare, the full Hackgate depravity might never have come out. Sean Hoare was a good man who did something – and he should be remembered for that.

Coulson, predictably, fired him. His version of the event is that Hoare was a hopeless office drunk and marching powder addict. What Handy Andy omits to mention is that it was he and others in the Newscorp cesspool who encouraged this essentially decent man to get coked up with celebs, the better to find out what skeletons rested uneasily in their mental cupboards.

Others close to the action have told me in the past that Hoare made his unease known to Newscorp management, and that the firing on the basis of drink and drugs was a cynical insurance against anything he might later say. It proved to be wise insurance. …

Hoare eventually got himself clean, but the guilt about what he’d done drove him back to his best friend the bottle. He was found dead at his home today, and details so far are scant. The police say that there is no evidence of foul play. How sad it is that nobody in Britain will believe them.

Or outside Britain, for that matter — and it’s not sad; it’s merely logical. Given what we have learned so far about the behavior of Murdoch and his minions, the idea that they might have a critic whacked — “And, Louie?” “Yeah, boss?” “Make it look like an accident.” — doesn’t seem at all implausible.


Quote of the day

Filed under: America. It was a really good idea — Lex @ 9:38 pm

Roy Edroso:

If we really wanted to teach the kids what goes on in our legislatures, we would just show them selected episodes of The Wire.

Still a few bugs in the system

Filed under: Geek-related issues — Lex @ 8:20 pm

Nancy Nall points out a New York Times blog post about the price we’re paying for fewer editors. It’s true, and it’s affecting not only your local newspaper but even major books from quasi-reputable publishing houses.

Computers were supposed to save labor, but only some of the labor they save is inessential. Nancy, who lives in Grosse Point, near Detroit, offers her own example:

I have an RSS feed that picks up every mention of Grosse Pointe on Twitter, excluding “Grosse Pointe Blank,” a cult movie that will live forever in film geekdom. It blew up overnight with a story in the Detroit News, about our school district’s rejection of a Head Start program at one elementary. But all the tweets were from automated feeds aimed at stock traders. I couldn’t figure out why, until I remembered the elementary principal’s name — Penny Stocks.


Friday, July 15, 2011 8:44 pm

Quote of the day, debt-ceiling edition

From the best political pundit in America today. No, sit the hell down, Brooks, you ignorant twit. You, too, Friedman, you insufferable solipsist. I’m talking about Digby:

I’m afraid that the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that grandma must pay, come what may.

And the sad thing is that because Democrats have a right wing opposition party that’s [expletive]  insane it means that they can run as Ronald Reagan and people feel they have no choice but to vote for them anyway. It must be so liberating for politicians not to have to worry about the effects of their policies on real people.

And let’s be clear about those effects: They’re going to be awful.

Never mind that in cutting government spending so greatly right now we’re going to make unemployment go higher, not lower. Forget that. No, we have a bigger problem: Because of cuts in health care and other human services provided by government, a nontrivial number of Americans are going to die prematurely as a direct consequence of this grandstanding, by both sides, on the debt ceiling. Both the president and Congress will have blood on their hands, and both have made it clear they couldn’t give less of a damn.


Thursday, July 14, 2011 8:56 pm

Are you a fan of efficient government? Want to improve the economy? Read on.

We all know that this country has an enormous backlog of infrastructure projects, from water and sewer to Internet, that we need to get to work on if we’re going to be globally competitive down the road. (And for those who don’t know, here’s a primer from those wild-eyed liberals at the American Society of Civil Engineers.)

Now, as with enormous backlogs of pretty much anything, paying for this stuff is going to be hugely expensive. Getting much of it done at any one time inevitably would require government borrowing. At the moment, that’s not a popular idea inside the Beltway. But if you really want government to be run like a business, what do you do? You identify current and likely future needs. If possible, you wait until the cost of borrowing money goes way down, and you put your jobs out to bid when high unemployment means wages are stagnant so you can get the most bang for your buck.

A time like now, in other words. Unemployment is high (and rising again). People need work and are more willing to work cheaply than they otherwise might have been. And the cost of borrowing? Well, here’s the real kicker.

Karl Smith, an assistant professor of public economics and government at UNC, makes a counterintuitive but deeply important point: Because the real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) rate of return on 5-year Treasury notes is currently negative, it would be cheaper to do the work now, with borrowed money, than it would be to pay cash later on:

… real rate of return on government 5 year  securities is now negative. You want to stop and absorb that because I think it’s a bigger deal than most people realize.

Suppose the government had two choices. It could either pay for infrastructure improvements as it went along out of tax revenue or it could borrow money build the infrastructure now and then repay the money with tax revenues.

Ordinarily the question would be, does the advantage of building quickly outweigh the cost of the interest.

However, right now the interest cost is negative. The government saves money by borrowing now rather than waiting and paying cash. Let me say again because I have noticed that this goes against so much intuition that its hard for many people to wrap around when I first say it.

The government will wind up paying more if it decides to pay cash for a project than it will if it decides to borrow. This is irrespective of the return on the project itself or the advantages of avoiding delays or anything like that. It is simply that the cost of borrowing is negative.

It is cheaper than paying cash.

Given that fact, plus the immediate stimulative effect to the economy that infrastructure would have and the foundation for future wealth creation that such projects would lay, we would be nuts not to borrow, and borrow big, right now, for infrastructure projects.

Unfortunately, as the ongoing debt-ceiling crisis has shown, a nontrivial percentage of the people who make these decisions really are nuts.

(h/t: mistermix)

Unfit to govern

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:33 pm

I’ve thought for a long time that the national Republican Party was crazy, and after we learned that the invasion of Iraq was predicated on a lie and that we had started applying Nazi techniques to our prisoners, I knew it. But then, my standards for proving that government officials are insane have been fairly low since the summer of ’73.

No, what’s interesting to me is that other people — even some people who make their living inside the Beltway — are starting, in light of the GOP Tea Party faction’s apparent willingness to blow up the economy, to say this same thing publicly.

Consider Jonathan Chait, a liberal but not one generally given to drama. He has publicly questioned the congressional GOP’s sanity at least twice in the past few days. Actually, he’s not questioning it. He’s claiming it doesn’t exist, and given that Obama just offered the GOP something they’ve spent decades claiming to be working for and they walked away from it, I can’t argue with him.

Meanwhile, the evidence that’s leaked out about internal Republican deliberations suggests the Republicans are not shrewdly trying to maximize their leverage. They’re just barking mad. …

The predominant conservative view here seems to be that nothing bad would happen if we fail to lift the debt ceiling. Indeed, failing to life the debt ceiling is simply another way of imposing a balanced budget requirement, which would be good! (Even Mitt Romneyhas endorsed this plan.) Therefore, why should they lift the debt ceiling and allow the un-balancing of the budget, if they don’t get a balanced budget requirement in return?

The more we find out about the House Republican caucus, the more obvious it becomes that they’re not just trying to maximize their leverage by pretending to be crazy. They’re crazy.

To the extent that there’s anything fun about this, it’s finding out that perfectly ordinary people from all walks of life are starting to share my sentiment and, to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson, have had it with these mothereffin’ snakes on this mothereffin’ plane. John Cole, erstwhile Republican, for the win:

Of course they are crazy. [New York Times columnist] Ross Douthat is just a hack who does his best to run cover for his dumber compadres, but they are all crazy. There is really no reason to debate this anymore. They deny evolution, many of them think the earth is only several thousand years old, they don’t believe in global climate change and adamantly don’t believe humans have anything to do with it, they think being gay is a choice and I guaran-god-damned-tee that at least half of them think you can pray it away, they think stem cells are tiny babies, they think Saddam Hussein had a role in 9/11, they think you can cut taxes indefinitely and government revenues will always increase, they think Sarah Palin is qualified to be President and Joe the Plumber has keen political insights, they think Obama may be a Muslim and might not be a citizen, they think the solution to gun violence is more guns, and that dijon mustard and arugula are elitist, that the President who appointed half of Goldman Sachs to his administration is a socialist, and so on. And I’m not attributing to the GOP made up stuff, these are things in their [expletive] platform or that they state regularly on camera and in print. Michelle Bachmann was just on tv all wild-eyed asserting that even if we default, seniors will still get their social security checks and that Obama is a big meanie for suggesting otherwise. How will we pay them? Who the [expletive] knows? They aren’t dealing with reality and haven’t been for a long, long time.

There simply is no reason on earth to have this debate any more, except that it serves the needs of [expletives] like Ross Douthat and [New York Times columnist] David Brooks and other members of the conservative “intelligentsia.” If we all recognize that the conservatives are nuts and their ideas are disastrous, they would lose their respectable media/beltway credibility, and you can’t have that happening. So they spin all this bullshit and pretend that it is just another conservative viewpoint when what it actually is is [expletive] crazy being normalized by sociopaths like the aforementioned Times columnists.

So yes. They are crazy. [Expletive], [expletive] crazy. Anyone who treats them as a serious party is either a wingnut welfare recipient or just plain stupid.

And for the cherry atop this cri de couer, Balloon Juice commenter bkny:

it’s not just the crazy members of congress; it’s the inability of the washington dc press corps to purge itself of people who were catastrophically wrong in their policy pronunciations be it economics or the invasion of iraq or any other issue of the past ten years.

Yup. The barking lunatics who have the greatest nation in history circling the drain — and make no mistake; if the U.S. defaults on its debt, 2008 is going to seem like a pinata party — have been enabled by many of the most powerful members of my former profession. Good thing the Bill of Rights is going to be history soon anyway.




This is why I can’t get any studying done

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 8:25 pm
Tags: , , ,

Because some blogger named Elizabeth Stevens at The Awl sucked me into a long essay on the subject of art and the Muppets, two subjects I don’t even care that much about, and kept me there for more than an hour.

Damn bloggers. Get off my lawn.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 8:28 pm

Reaching for the stars for 100 years

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 8:28 pm
Tags: ,

A nice piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on (roughly) the centennial of the Mount Wilson observatory in California, which — using both trained astronomers and dedicated amateurs — has taught us much of what we’ve learned during that period about our solar system, galaxy and universe.

One would think …

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns!,I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:27 pm

… that any person able to win a coveted slot in The New York Times’s regular op-ed stable with license to opine on the economy would have a certain basic knowledge of economics and, in particular, would have done enough reporting to understand the causes and solutions of today’s economic problems, particularly inasmuch as we experienced something similar decades ago and know what worked and what didn’t back then. Indeed, one would think that a pundit in such an exalted position would be both able and willing to do the minimal reporting necessary to relate accurately the salient facts relevant to the situation about which he opines.

One would think that.

And, in the case of David Brooks, one would be completely, totally, unutterably, head-explodingly, brains-all-over-the-walledly wrong.

And this is the guy people point to when they claim that conservative pundits can be reasonable (whereas the real Republicans call him a RINO).

Jesus wept.

How to lose a re-election campaign

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:07 pm
Tags: ,

Brad DeLong demonstrates:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 7:20 pm

Blood-sucking bank

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 7:20 pm

Who, Bank of America? Citi? Goldman Sachs?

No …

(Courtesy of Fred)

What the magnate overheard

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 7:15 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Although criminal wiretapping issues apparently have been circling around Rupert Murdoch’s News International properties for at least five years, they didn’t really break the edge of my radar until the bit came out last week about News International hacking the voicemail of 13-year-old Milly Dowler in such a way as to have both given her family false hope that the murder victim (for so she turned out to be) was still alive and bolloxed up the investigation into her slaying.

Right about then, my friend David emailed me about the case. I took a gander and thought to blog about it but also realized that 1) I’d need some time to get up to speed and 2) stuff was starting to happen very, very fast. Just hours after David got in touch, news broke that Murdoch would be shutting down his 168-year-old News of the World Sunday paper, ostensibly the seat of the scandal and unquestionably his most profitable property.

My cynical response to that action is that in all likelihood quite a few people working at News of the World are utterly law-abiding and now find themselves jobless through no fault of their own.  Moreover, I would be hugely surprised if any directly probative evidence surfaces that connects Murdoch himself — or even his son, James — to the commission of any crime, be it hacking voice mail, paying private investigators to do so, bribing cops to do so or even bribing cops to tap the phones of those involved in investigating the very hacking at the root of all this, all crimes that have been at least credibly alleged and in some cases admitted.

If this were America, closing NotW would probably suffice, the possibility that 9/11 victims’ families may have had their phones hacked notwithstanding. Certainly, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell aren’t going to be asking for hearings, let alone holding them, even though Murdoch owns both the New York Post (which, remember, had an interesting connection to the Elliot Spitzer case) and The Wall Street Journal, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., is ever on the lookout for any obstacle to U.S. corporations’ violating the law with impunity. (News International’s parent, News Corp., is a publicly traded company in the U.S.) Unfortunately for Murdoch, however, the Brits are still capable of a right bit of outrage when the high and mighty start cutting corners, particularly in a case with all the ghoulish implications of the Dowler killing. Someone, probably someone close to him and maybe more than one such person, is going to have to take the fall.

But who will that be?

One likely candidate is Andy Coulson, a former NotW editor and also former communications director for British Prime Minister David Cameron. The BBC reports that News has given investigators emails showing that Coulson ordered payment of bribes to police officers when he was editor at NotN.

Another is Les Hinton, another former NotW editor and current publisher of The Wall Street Journal. Seems ol’ Les not only oversaw hacking, he may well have engaged in a cover-up, leading an “investigation” that James Murdoch now acknowledges “wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter.”

If the allegations are correct, both men (and many other people besides) belong in prison, certainly. But there’s yet another actor out there.

That would be Rebekah Brooks, News International’s chief executive. She was NotW editor when Milly Dowler’s voice mail was hacked. Of more interest to those hoping for a bit of schadenfreude vis-a-vis Rupert Murdoch is that she is variously described as Murdoch’s fifth daughter and one of his favorite people on the planet. It is not inconceivable that she is also in this up to her eyeballs.

Since ancient times, bards have noted the intense grief that comes with burying one’s children. If the accounts are correct, Murdoch would sooner throw his blood son to the wolves than his “fifth daughter,” but the wolves may get her despite anything he can do. And if she and Murdoch are as close as everyone says, it is highly improbable that she would roll over on him. More likely she would take her lumps in prison on a bribery or wiretapping charge, knowing that Murdoch’s money and gratitude, if not the aging man himself, would be awaiting her upon her release.

In an imperfect world, the misery he would suffer during her prosecution and confinement might be as close to justice as we get. Of course, it’s still not enough. The fact of the matter, as anyone who has spent a lot of time in the working world knows, is that executives set the tone for their companies. Not a soul above the level of night cops reporter would have hacked voice mail or paid off a cop if News International’s atmosphere hadn’t at least tacitly encouraged that behavior.

UPDATE: DougJ at Balloon Juice proposes a nifty thought experiment:

… imagine that Wikileaks had hacked into an abducted child’s voicemail and deleted some of the messages. Suppose that [Wikileaks founder Julian] Assange claimed that he had no idea this had happened, that he was on vacation that week. What do you think the reaction would be from establishment media?

If Wikileaks somehow became a huge company and Assange a billionaire, this would be all different of course. Murdoch’s techniques are condoned in many quarters simply because when a Galtian overlord does it … that means it is not illegal.

Just ask Jim Sensenbrenner.

Friday, July 8, 2011 8:40 pm

Something to remember about tort reform

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:40 pm
Tags: ,

If conservatives get their way, guys who get screwed as badly as this guy did will get bupkus:

Ikenna, a 28-year old construction worker, went to deposit a $8,463.21 Chase cashier’s check at his local Chase branch, only for the teller to decide that neither he nor his check looked right and he got tossed in jail for forgery, KING5 reports. The next day, a Friday the bank realized its mistake and left a message with the detective. But it was her day off, so he spent the entire weekend in jail.

By the time he got out, he had been fired from his job for not showing up to work. His car had been towed as well. It ended up getting sold off at auction because he couldn’t afford to get it out of the pound. He had been relying on that cashier’s check for his money but it was taken as evidence and by the time he got it back it was auctioned off.

All this while the cashier’s check had been issued by the very bank he was trying to cash it at.

Chase didn’t even apologize, not even after a year. A lawyer volunteered to help write a strongly-worded letter requesting damages. After trying hard to get a response, they sent KING 5 a two-sentence reply: “We received the letter and are reviewing the situation. We’ll be reaching out to the customer.”

I’ll just bet they will. With both middle fingers extended, no doubt.

This is the behavior of a company run by people who are convinced, despite all odds, that nothing bad will ever happen to them AND that it doesn’t matter whether they worry whether bad things might happen to others. Sociopaths, in other words.



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